Rugby as a sport has many levels just like the varying ways you can score points in a rugby game. Apart from the age groups, female, male, mixed abilities, 15s, 10s and 7s we have the fast-growing Touch Rugby sector which is becoming even more popular in many countries as it continues to spread around the world. Touch rugby originated in Australia in the late 60s, two coaches of the South Sydney Junior Rugby League Club, Bob Dyke and Ray Vawdon as a training method for Rugby League. They then used it for retired players or Vets to continue playing the sport in a competitive manner. The idea caught on and surged so much so in the 70s that the majority of Australian teams were playing touch rugby either as a training method or competitive games and it was recognized a legitimate sport.
The first official game organized by Bob and Ray was played in 1969 at Snape Park in Sydney. The game then appeared in N. Zealand by 1975, naturally, Touch had already arrived to the shores of the UK and in 1978 the GB National RL team were in Australia and played against the recently formed ATFA (Australian Touch Football Association) team Sydney Metropolitan TR team. The sport of touch rugby continued to grow in the southern hemisphere and beyond until a new world governing body was formed in 1985 to enable a World Cup competition to be held. The Federation of International Touch (FIT) has been running their world cup competition since 1991 and has over 20 countries participating with some unusual teams like the Channel Islands, Lebanon, Catalonia and Singapore entering teams. The Touch Rugby World Cup is a quadrennial competition with the last FIT World Cup held in 2019 when Australia beat N. Zealand to become the men’s open champions and the women’s formation open champions. The FIT run a well organised competition and further competitions for Mixed and different age groups of men, women and youths.
The main rules and regulations of touch rugby mirror rugby union’s basic rules with the passing the ball back and never forwards and scoring a try by grounding the ball but that’s it. All penalties and kick offs start with ball tap with the foot then picked up to pass or run then pass. The player with the ball must stop when touched with two hands by an opponent and place the ball on the ground where the player was touched, another team member then collects the ball to continue but if immediately touched then the change-over rule is applied, this means that the attacking team now becomes the defending team as it has lost possession. A change-over is also applied after 6 touch tackles if there is no score. The touched player can also back heel the ball for up to a metre. Defending players must retire 7m from the touched player or be considered offside. There is no kicking of the ball allowed. 1 point is awarded for a try. A game starts with 6 players on the field and up to 8 replacements, 14 player squad in total and unlimited substitutions permitted. Player positions are described as: Middle, Link and Wing. A middle player requires more stamina and is usually the fittest, a link player would be a play maker type and a winger as we are all familiar with a speedy and agile player. The recognised standard international pitch size is 70m x 50m and game time 40 minutes consisting of 2 halves of 20 minutes each.
These are the FIT regulations but there are plenty of variations on playing touch rugby especially at grassroots and community levels. Touch rugby is also adopted for the very young players to become familiar with rugby, its skills and techniques with the full contact approach gradually introduced as they progress. Touch rugby is a fast and dynamic game requiring many player changes due to the constant play action which is similar to Beach Rugby in energy sapping sand.
Beach Rugby – The game time for a beach rugby match is 10 or 14 minutes total, with a 3 minute break between the two 5 or 7 minute halves. The playing field on sand is 31m x 25m and a 3m try area, thankfully, as running in sand is a most strenuous exercise even for the fittest of athletes. The summer tournaments, especially in Europe are well-attended with men’s, women’s, veterans and special fun teams enjoying the sand, surf and size 4 rugby ball as the regulations stipulate. Beach Rugby does not have a long history although a popular amateur sport it only became a more organised in the last 10 years. EBRA (European Beach Rugby Association) is the organising body with support from World Rugby who run the RWC. Beach rugby starts with 5 players on the sand pitch and up to 7 replacements that roll on and roll off when needed. The game itself is non-stop even when a 1 point try is scored as the teams quickly send on replacements for the try scorer and support player that leave the pitch in a smoothly practiced tactical move to not get caught out on kick off. This rapid, high skill and full contact rugby is extremely tiring even if the game is only 5 minutes each way, tactical plays are the key to win. Naturally, there are tournaments for less ambitious teams who wish to spend a weekend at the beach with rugby and a few beers.
Barcelona and Sopot Beach Rugby Festivals are ideal candidates for a community club style team or group of rugby friends to play in, in fact, the Sopot Beach Rugby Festival has their VIP category which puts teams of no experience or used to play rugby together for some fun matches and adopt a touch or no full contact rule, the Krakow Journalists BR team won the 2020 VIP category supported by Juvenia Krakow RFC which also the venue of an international 10s rugby tournament, the Poland Rugby Festival and an U.19 Krakow 7s tournament. The more pro-style tournaments are South Beach Rugby (Marseille, Fr), EBRA Master Final (Lignano Sabbiadoro, It) and Balaton Lake Beach Rugby (HU).
Snow Rugby – Summer is for the beach, so, winter is for the snow and rugby follows this seasonal change. The teams play a similar version of beach rugby rules with 5 players but also 15s is favoured. Snow rugby by coincidence was formed in the same region as beach rugby, Friuli Venezia Giulia in Italy and since 2013 the Tarvisio Snow Rugby 5s are played there. Rugby enthusiast Alberto Stentardo got the idea for snow rugby while present at the nearby EBRA BR 5s and created the Tarvisio Snow Ruby 5s which often sees the same players but in different weather conditions that are 50°c apart, +35°c in summer and -15°c in winter. Russia in particular has a big following of snow rugby participants and fans and, ironically, Moscow hosted both the European Beach and Snow Rugby Championships in 2019. The governing body Rugby Europe support and promote snow and beach rugby as well as 7s and 15s of rugby union. Snow rugby is played by teams from the most unexpected countries such as Afghanistan and the Kashmir region of India.
If you play rugby and want to play it all year round then consider the options above to prolong your passion for this glorious and noble 199 year old sport that has so many specialisations and styles no matter your size, age, ability or gender and the numerous ways you can score points in rugby is why this sport is the best plus don’t forget the traditional 3rd half. Cheers.